Even the slightest pain can turn everyday activities into a burden, which becomes especially true when the discomfort doesn’t go away after a few days. Sciatic pain stems from various factors, from the simple passage of time to a tumor pressing on a nerve, and can result in either a fleeting pinch or a long-lasting ache. Learn if this condition is something that only time can heal or if there’re practices you can adopt to handle the problem yourself, like using cold compresses, taking painkillers, and doing stretching exercises.
What Is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve starts at your lower back, splits through each of your buttocks, and finishes down your legs and feet. When inflammation or irritation reaches any part of this tissue, you’ll probably experience sciatica, an ailment that has affected 40% of adults in the US at least once. Depending on the culprit behind your sciatic pain, you might feel numbness, slight discomfort, or a sharp sting in a particular body section.
However, just because your legs are numb or in pain doesn’t mean you suffer from sciatica. Exercising without stretching, heavy lifting, and dehydration can all lead to limb soreness. If the discomfort is short-lived and only affects your legs, sciatica is probably not to blame.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sometimes, the answer lies in plain sight, meaning your sciatica can result from aging. As you get older, your body loses its ability to heal after strenuous activities, making you feel pain where it once didn’t.
Age can also change the structure of your spine; for instance, bone spurs, bumps made of bone tissue that appear in your joint, might exert pressure against your sciatic nerve and cause excruciating pain. The elderly are also prone to herniated disks, a condition that makes tissue between their spine shift towards their sciatic nerve, becoming a cause of sciatica.
Even younger people can get sciatica if they adopt an incorrect walking and sitting posture. If you curve your lower back while working from home or striding to the supermarket, you overly stress your back tissue and muscles and, in turn, compress your sciatic nerve. Some jobs that require workers to carry heavy objects or sit for hours on end can also affect the position of their backs and their possibility of suffering from sciatic pain.
Not working out and gaining weight can also take a toll on your sciatic nerve. When there’s more mass for your body to lift and move, your spine must work twice as hard, compressing the surrounding muscle and nerve tissue. The sedentary lifestyle that usually goes hand in hand with obesity means you might not be exercising to strengthen your back, which increases your chances of getting sciatica.
Some people lead healthy, active lives but suffer from chronic conditions that can hurt their sciatic nerves. Adults with diabetes, for example, can’t control their sugar blood levels, which makes them at higher risk of nerve damage. Addictions to tobacco and alcohol also injure your nerve endings and might bring about sciatic pain.
Although extremely rare, some people are unfortunate enough to experience tumor growth near their sciatic nerve. If this tissue growth comes into contact with your sciatic nerve, it will give pain a free pass to worsen your days.
Will My Sciatica Heal Itself?
The good news is that, usually, sciatica goes away on its own within two months at most. However, sciatic pain can come back if you don’t deal with the root of the problem, either by changing the bad habits responsible for your sciatica in the first place or by talking to your doctor about a possible surgical intervention.
By adopting certain daily practices, you can speed your recovery, prevent further sciatic pain, and reduce permanent discomfort.
What Can I Do to Make Sciatica Pain Go Away Faster?
Apply Cold Compresses and Heating Pads
By applying cold compresses, packages of frozen vegetables, or ice over the part of your body that is numb or aching, you’ll relieve the pain and take care of any swelling or inflammation. Try applying them several times daily for 10 to 15 minutes. To achieve better results, try doing it the first week after you start showing symptoms. After a few days, you can try shifting to heating pads to prevent muscle spasms and help your back and legs relax.
Over-the-counter medication can deal with discomfort and swelling. If your pain has become too intense for ibuprofen and aspirin to control, ask your doctor for prescribed medication and take it in moderation. Always follow professional instructions since taking more than the recommended dose of painkillers can result in other medical problems.
Yoga, cardio, swimming, and long walks are some options available to improve your endurance and strengthen your back and leg muscles. Not only is exercise a great pain reliever because we release endorphins as we jog or run, but it also prevents future sciatica episodes.
Learning how to breathe while and after you exercise can also significantly improve the results of your sciatica treatment while helping you make the most of your routine.
By stretching your back and limbs, you give your back muscles the necessary strength to carry more body weight and feel less tired. When your core muscles can support your torso correctly, your posture improves and doesn’t pressure your sciatic nerve as much. Finally, stretching exercises have the power to make your sciatica nerve more flexible and less likely to hurt in the future.
See a Medical Professional for Surgery
If you’ve tried everything and pain is still a part of your daily routine, try talking to a doctor about a possible surgical procedure. Some conditions responsible for sciatica, such as bone spurs or tumors, require medical intervention for sciatic pain to disappear. Extreme cases of sciatica might also make you lose control of your bladders and bowels, a disheartening and inconvenient situation that calls for surgery.